Twitter is the sport's friend, however, and my feed sparkled with expressions of thanks @AlexMorgan from fans who had been dismayed by the team's failure to cinch the win in regular time and were relieved - not to mentioned surprised - by the victory. The story of the game must have been Italy's stalwart defense. Maybe the Azzurri are bodying forth the following truism: national women's teams tend play the way their men do (not good news for USA). Actually it is probably more accurate to say that international women's teams are playing as the men used to - before they turned into spoiled overgrown babies working for the world's biggest crooks.
On the matter of time and possible crookery: one might safely observe that the person who most helped the US today was the match's referee (Sylvia Elisabeth Reyes Juarez). Morgan scored her goal in the fourth minute of added time. Kevin McCauley, writing for SB Nation describes what happened:
Fergie Time might have to be re-named Pia Time after the United States' incredible stoppage time goal against Italy. Before stoppage time began, the fourth official showed two minutes of extra time. After three minutes, Italy made a substitution, theoretically requiring the official to add time to the clock, even though the match should have already been over. That extra time would prove costly for Italy as substitute Alex Morgan scored in the 94th minute and the fourth of six minutes of extra time. (McCauley, US Women v Italy)Hmm. The most optimistic read on this is that the referee got confused and the US got lucky - allowing Morgan to do her work and rob Italy of a draw. More cynical followers of the game will wonder if this isn't the workings of the Sith Lords of Soccer, who can't imagine a successful (i.e. profitable) Women's World Cup without an invested American audience.
Speaking of audience: most of us fans didn't see today's game. We couldn't. ESPN exiled the match to the dark corner of the internet known as "ESPN3.com" - accessible only to some cable television subscribers. I followed Jacqueline Purdy's tweets - I assumed that the ESPN blogger was in the stands in Padova. I was wrong. She was in front of a computer screen. Last week ESPN sent a whole crew to cover the US men's team play a purely symbolic match against South Africa, but who did they send to Italy for this important qualifier? [Crickets.]
The recent under performance of the USWNT should raise loads of questions. Like: Is the USWNT overrated? While I believe the USWNT players and staff are fully aware of their international competition - the American press seems totally oblivious to the rapid gains made by national team programs like Italy, Nigeria (who won the 2010 AWC), and Mexico. The American loss to Mexico was not nearly as surprising as everyone makes it out to be. Yes, it was an upset - but let's not imagine that Mexico's solid play or the US's lackluster performances were anomalies. If anything, today's game proved that there is something amiss in the golden girls' camp.
An interesting detail to these recent matches: US players have been playing well AGAINST the US Women's National Team. Mexico's Veronica Perez (from San Mateo, California - see this Mercury News profile) scored the winner against the USWNT to force the US into its playoff with Italy. And Italy's terrific defensive game must have something to do with their goalie Anna Picarelli (from Lakewood, California - see Purdy's story about her.) That playing abroad is an attractive option for these women says everything about the gains made by national programs outside the United States.
This is good news for women's soccer. It means that the US Women's National Team has to play a smarter, more aggressive game. Nigeria has shown itself to be stronger than most sides at sucking the joy out of their opponents' games, and has players with startling talent who show real leadership under pressure. We all know that Brazil has the skill to unravel a team's strategy - that once they crack that strategy, they can actually demoralize world champions (USA and Germany were both broken by Marta's crew in dramatic victories). Teams like England and Mexico are hungry to show their football-mad countries what their women can do. One of these sides is going to break through and represent the new face of the international game.
We must stop imagining that other teams are bringing their game to us, and start bringing our game to them.
And we can show our support for the US Women's National Team by demanding broadcast of their games. Call ESPN and express your desire to see Saturday's game on television: 1-888-549-ESPN